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Full text of "Alexander von Humboldt"

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172                              LIFE   OF
rays, according to Ms calculations, must have travelled
nearly two millions of years to reach the earth. And
if we now, as astronomers frequently observe, hear of
a star which suddenly loses its light, or increases it
considerably, these are, as Humboldt says, events
which, in their historical reality, belong to other ages
than those in which we perceive them by the changes
in their rays. They are voices of the past; an hour
for us is for a ray of light a space of 1^8 millions of
miles, and we may possibly be admiring a star whose
last rays are now on the way to us, while the star
itself may have ceased to exist ages ago.
Reflections such as these are induced by con-
templating the stars with Humboldt; we learn to
know, in the light of distant worlds, the oldest per-
ceptible sign of the existence of matter.
After this introduction, the ingenuous naturalist
"brings us back to the real field of his experience, the
earth. Considering first its form, its mean density.,
its warmth, and electro-magnetic power,, he acknow-
ledges, from the relations of trie earth and its powers,
working from the centre outwards, a universal natural
force—namely, subterranean heat—which, produces
earthquakes, hot springs and volcanic phenomena.
The surface of the earth disturbed, raised, or broken
through by this force, has in the course of centuries
formed the relation of the land to the water, and
the form of the oceaax—temporary or permanent
clefts into these unknown depths serve to connect this
interior of the earth with the air; fiery springs of
molten masses rise gradually or suddenly from the
unexplored abysses and petrify into lava, and while
the ancient rocks are changed by the influence of the
waters, new ones are formed before our eyes; the waters
reveal remains of plants and animals, precipitations,
aggregates, crushed rocks mixed with the osticular
ashes of an extinct animal creation. Humboldt intro-
duced a scientific knowledge into this varied scene by
thoughtful comparisons of the present with the past,
of the analogous and the dissimilar, by a combination